No School Board Association Left Behind

May 24, 2022

Monday, the Texas School Board Association formally dissociated from the National School Boards Association (NSBA), becoming the 24th state association "to withdraw membership, participation, or dues." They voted in response to the release on Friday of an independent review of the NSBA's infamous letter from last fall asking the federal Department of Justice to investigate concerned parents as domestic terrorists (which whistleblowers say they did).

But now, the NSBA is pursuing a more conciliatory -- even abject -- tone. "The letter directly contradicts our core commitments to parent engagement, local control, and nonpartisanship. The sentiments shared in the letter do not represent the views or position of the NSBA," said John Heim, NSBA's new Executive Director and CEO. "The NSBA does not seek or advocate for federal law enforcement intervention at local school board meetings." That's great, but why did it take so long? The rest of the class recognized the problems with the letter as soon as it was released in late September. The NSBA didn't even begin its investigation until February.

"They're apologizing," FRC President Tony Perkins told "Washington Watch" listeners, "because you, along with many others, started talking to local school boards and state school boards... And many of them withdrew because of your involvement." Without using so many words, the NSBA is asking parents for terms of surrender.

FRC Senior Fellow for Education Studies Meg Kilgannon said that "every state has an association for school board members ... to provide technical assistance. It's a membership organization. The school boards pay dues into the system." The NSBA is "supposed to be a resource for those state associations" at the federal level, she explained. They are entirely dependent on dues from the state associations. So essentially, Perkins concluded, "they got their hand caught in the cookie jar, and they're trying to keep from losing any more money from state organizations that withdrew their membership."

After apologizing and appointing a new CEO, the NSBA was still hemorrhaging members, so it hired a law firm to review the letter's origins. "I'm always suspicious of reports that are generated by the organization investigating itself," Kilgannon said, "but I think that's probably about all we're going to get." The review found Chip Slaven, NSBA's former interim director and CEO, was responsible "for both the 'origin and substance of the letter,'" and only four other board members reviewed the letter. "It shows that he didn't run it through the review process as normal," explained Kilgannon.

However, the independent review did reveal that the letter, which "contained plenty of inflammatory language," Perkins noted, was toned down. "A previous draft of the letter even called for the deployment... [of] the National Guard and military police to certain districts," he continued. "When did parental rights become a crime? In fact, when did it become a national emergency?" They "were totally shocked that parents were upset and coming to school boards," Kilgannon agreed. "Where are they supposed to take their concerns but to their local school board?"

The review also demonstrated the NSBA collaborated "with people in the White House and at the Department of Education," said Kilgannon, although it was careful to say it "did not find direct or indirect evidence suggesting the administration requested the letter." In the ever-responsible hands of the Washington Post, that lack of evidence became positive confirmation that "the group was not acting at the White House's behest." But "that's not what the report said," Perkins insisted. "It could have been that the NSBA approached them first, but clearly the White House coached them on what was to be in the letter," not to mention the Justice Department's unheard of rapidity in responding. He said the "investigation... confirmed what many of us knew, or at least suspected, all along. The association worked closely with the Biden administration."

No one can apologize harder than the NSBA, but it may not save them if they aren't willing to clean house. One of the four officers who reviewed the letter and "expressed their approval without proposing substantive changes" is Frank Henderson, who remains president of the board. "We regret that we did not review the letter more closely at the time," read his apology. That might do if that were his only error. But according to the review, months earlier he asked Education Secretary Miguel Cardona for support in pushing curriculum based on critical race theory over parents' objections. That's an odd way to demonstrate commitment to "non-partisan" decision-making, "local control," and "parent engagement," which are supposed to be the NSBA's "core commitments as an organization."

Their own review describes how "they were predisposed to be partisan," complained Perkins. Kilgannon agreed, "instead of wondering, 'Wow, have we overstepped? Should we be taking these concerns seriously? Are we out of touch with the public?'... the knee-jerk reaction is to have the federal government step in and corral parents." If anything, that demonstrates core corruption of the organization.

But the final nail in the coffin are the rapidly formed alternatives. Many state school board associations have formed their own replacement group, which Kilgannon expects will "probably... be of the same more liberal stripe." But other groups, including FRC Action, the Heritage Foundation, and the Noah Webster Educational Foundation, are also working to train average moms and dads to competently manage local school boards. "Everyone working in the school system should be working together for the benefit of children and families," said Kilgannon. "It should take an outside organization to empower them."